Shoulder Packing: What is it? How do we do it? How can we use it to make crossfit safer.

By dpope2020

June 7, 2012

injury prevention, physical therapy, Shoulder, shoulder packing

The Famous Coach Dan John Packing some Shoulders

If you’ve been hanging around or listening to some of the top level strength coaches speak, you’ve probably heard the term shoulder packing come up from time to time.  Maybe you’ve heard Kelly Starrett talk about externally rotating, retracting and depressing the shoulder?  Maybe you’re a kettlebell guy and heard about it from Steve Cotter, Pavel and the RKC crew.

When it comes to keeping athletes safe, injury free or returning them to the field of play after injury it requires quite a bit of thought and action.  Proper programming and throwing them the right exercises is definitely a key part.  We also need to think about exercise technique and developing proper motor patterns.  Here is where shoulder packing comes into play.

Shoulder packing is a matter of ensuring that the shoulder is kept in the proper position to be at its strongest and safest position during all movements.

This requires the correct muscles to become active and be recruited in the right sequence.  Sound confusing?  Check out this video below from Christopher Long and Gray Cook for a primer and demonstration of shoulder packing.

In the video they demonstrated shoulder packing in two positions, shoulder flexion at 90 degrees (arm out in front of your) and at 180 degrees of flexion (arm overhead).  The basic cues are to keep the shoulder retracted and depressed while still allowing the scapula to rotate normally with overhead motion.

To learn how to obtain the shoulder pack position and strengthen the musculature to maintain it, Joe Sansalone demonstrates the corrective exercise “Y” and how to incorporate shoulder packing into this movement.  With this exercise we can focus on what it feels like to be in the correct position and learn how to reproduce it with other movements.

Most people can understand getting into this position.  What I find the hardest to learn is how to keep this position during all other shoulder movements.  Once you really have this nailed down you can progress to trying this out on the other stuff.

  • Deadlift, Olympic Lift and swing variations
  • Pull-up and rowing variations
  • Overhead pressing and handstand variations
  • Pushups, Dips and pressing variations

Here are some helpful tips and cues:

  • Tuck your shoulder down and back
  • Squeeze tightly onto whatever it is you are holding (Kettlebell, Barbell, Pull-up bar)
  • Reset your shoulders between repetitions or during repetitions if you notice yourself falling out of the correct position.
  • Rest if you find yourself too fatigued to continue properly

My favorite two exercises to teach shoulder packing is the Ring Row and the Turkish Get-up (TGU).  With the ring row you get used to packing the shoulder while pulling something toward you and with the TGU you learn how to pack the shoulder during a pressing movement and while holding something overhead.   The TGU is also great because you’re learning how to keep the shoulder packed while transitioning into different shoulder positions as the movement is completed.   If you can master these two exercises you can master the rest.

Take-away points:

  • Packing the shoulder maximizes shoulder stability and safety during exercise
  • Shoulder packing can and should be utilized with all exercises that require stability at the shoulder (Pretty much all exercises)
  • Like all other skills, shoulder packing must be learned and practiced.  In many cases some of you may have to really break some old habits
  • Stop your sets once this position can’t be maintained anymore (especially during exercises like muscle-ups, kipping pull-ups and toes to bar)
  • Shoulder packing can be learned and practiced initially with basic exercises such as the “Y”